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Maryland lawsuit against paper mill owner Verso raises to the federal level
LUKE, Md. (From news reports) -- A federal lawsuit is putting pressure on Verso, the owner of a former paper mill in western Maryland, alleging that toxic waste coming from the site of the old paper mill is polluting the Potomac River.

Verso Corporation closed the Luke paper mill a little over one year ago due to profitability, the company said. Over 600 people lost their jobs from the closure. Then in December 2019, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh filed a lawsuit in the Circuit Court for Allegany County regarding the alleged pulping liquor pollution.

According to the National Energy Technology Laboratory, toxic pulping liquor is a byproduct of paper manufacturing, after wood is converted into wood pulp and then into paper. The laboratory's website says "one third of all pulping mills in the United States produce 6 million lbs/day of black liquor each," however recovery boilers were invented to prevent harmful pollution from this toxic waste.

At the order of the Maryland Department of the Environment, Verso did install sump pumps and collected some of the discharge as it seeped from the riverbank, Frosh said when announcing his state-level lawsuit in December. However, Frosh said an inspector from the department still found "black discharge along the riverbed and in the river."

Now, the state attorney general is moving the lawsuit to the federal level to intervene after the Potomac Riverkeeper Network took legal action with similar allegations. The press release from Frosh's office said the Maryland Department of the Environment "seeks to bring state law claims into the federal case to avoid duplication and allow one court to resolve all of the claims arising from common facts."

The Potomac Riverkeeper Network is an advocacy organization which calls its members "the eyes and ears of the water, protecting the public's right to clean water in their rivers and streams." The attorney general's press release said any legal action on the organization's end can not represent the state.

Maryland's federal complaint seeks "orders requiring the mill owners, Verso Luke LLC and its parent company, Verso Corporation, to stop the discharges and remediate any harm caused by them. The complaint also seeks orders requiring Verso to post signs warning of health risks and to pay civil penalties."

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